The Monroe Doctrine as Germans See It

ON November 20, 1908, Sir Edward Grey remarked that foreign governments were living, as the English were, a hand-to-mouth existence, and did not have so many deep-laid plans as were generally accredited to them.

Naturally I do not doubt his personal belief as reflected in this statement, but I am inclined to question its fundamental correctness, especially in view of the uniformity of Great Britain’s foreign policy, which has been so often and so conclusively set forth, and which has found a memorable and marked expression in the consummate perfection of detail and secrecy of the political attitude of Edward VII.

Assuming, however, that Sir Edward Grey’s assertion is to be considered applicable to England, and should the statement prove justified in the case of every other nation of the world, even so, to be entirely correct, he should have made an exception in the case of the United States. Her statesmen do not live from hand to mouth; up to the present time — whether always consciously or not does not at present come under our consideration — they have been led, at least in the administration of the foreign policies they have seen fit to adopt, by the principles of everyday politics.

Strange as this assertion may sound, and little as it may seem consonant with the nature of the popular tendencies attributed to the American people, one can, nevertheless, characterize the foreign policy of the United States, superficially at least, by no better catch phrase than ‘the policy of principles.’

From the first dawn of independent American diplomacy this tendency has made itself felt; and it soon found expression in three basic theories, namely: the principle of recognizing only such states and governments as are founded on the will of the people; the tendency to shun alliances; and, lastly, the Monroe Doctrine.

Undeniably, the political face of the world has undergone a great change since those times; undeniably, the position of the United States, both in its internal identity and in its relation to other members of the family of nations, has suffered fundamental alterations. New ideas and new theories have sprung up, and, partially and temporarily at least, have influenced the United States, particularly at times when various waves of expansion have swept over America. To a certain degree these newer policies have won for themselves a lasting place in American political thought, as is particularly evident in the ‘principle of the big brother toward the weaker American Republics,’ — termed by its antagonists ‘the principle of the big stick.’

The three theories which I have stated above have, like ‘ the stationary poles in the earth’s flight,’ kept their place among the fundamentals of American foreign policies; if not unvaried by the changes in the international position of the United States, they have been at least unimpaired in their efficiency and significance. Relatively speaking, the first of the three, that dealing with the recognition of only such states or governments as are founded upon the will of the people, has undergone the greatest change, and has been, of the three, the most disputed. Whereas at the close of the eighteenth century it stood foremost in the minds of American statesmen, and in the opinion of the public, — especially in connection with the struggles for freedom waged by the various SpanishAmerican colonies on both continents, — and to a considerable extent formed the substance of political agitation, it now occupies only the modest place to which diplomacy and the political thought of a mighty and firmly established nation have relegated it. Quite recently, however, it has come vigorously to life, and, during President Wilson’s administration, it has made a deep moral impression. General Huerta can testify most eloquently to that!

In sharp contrast we find the second principle — relatively the least changed of the three — thrusting its granite foundations in the path of all invitations to enter into alliances. It forms a protecting bulwark against the real and imaginary dangers which menace the Union from abroad, and especially against the threat ‘to entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice.’ 2 In the interest of the American people, one can only hope that the veil which just now seems to cloud the historical memory of its leading statesmen will soon be lifted. One can only hope that before it be too late the American people will again grasp the full significance of, and will place the correct interpretation upon, this warning, which Washington wrote in conspicuous and impressive letters above the gateway of American diplomacy.

Because it has remained untouched by the evolutions and changes wrought by time, and because of its rigid conservatism, this principle of avoidingalliances distinguishes itself preëminently from the Monroe Doctrine. Of the three guiding principles, the latter has had the most eventful existence, and has exercised the strongest positive effect upon the development of the foreign policy of the United States. Were it not that one would, in some aspects, be doing the Monroe Doctrine an injustice in so characterizing it, superficially at least, one could most strikingly compare it to a will-o’-the-wisp. It is not a will-o’-the-wisp in so far as it affects American diplomats, since it is at their behest that the Monroe Doctrine flits hither and thither; and yet, to the rest of the world of nations, it remains none the less a will-o’-the-wisp. This similarity to a will-o’-the-wisp is in fact its most salient characteristic, and is unquestionably the secret of its practical efficiency and beneficial effect upon the policies of the United States. It will retain this characteristic until it has discovered the true boundaries of the territory it embraces. Champions of the idea of defining the Monroe Doctrine are constantly springing up, and attempts are constantly being made to bring Congress to take action to this end. So far, there is not the slightest indication that the thing will ever be accomplished. The general conviction exists that when the Monroe Doctrine has been defined, its value will be extinguished; this fact, combined with the impossibility of framing a correct and comprehensive formula, and yet one which will not be too uncertain, forms t he greatest stumbling-block to the accomplishment of this aim.

On the other hand, the lack of an anthentic and correct interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine lies at the root of the preponderance of false statements as to its scope, object, and contents which one constantly hears and reads, — misrepresentations often far-reaching, of which the American press and American public opinion are quite as much the victims as are those of European countries. One result of these errors may be seen in the bitter arguments which have arisen as to whether, in the event of an invasion of Canada by Germany, in the course of the present war, the United States, in pursuance of the Monroe Doctrine, would be obliged to oppose such a movement. In the solution of this problem, the question was raised whether sending Canadian troops to the European theatre of war did not militate against the Monroe Doctrine. Technically, the Monroe Doctrine does not have the remotest bearing on either point. This should be evident after the outcome of the wellknown complication as to the Venezuelan debts. Ex-President Taft decided quite rightly, as to the former question, that the Monroe Doctrine would be in no way involved by a German attack upon Canada.

When one comes to discuss the correct scope of the Monroe Doctrine, one cannot pass by without observing that more mistakes occur in this respect in the United States than in Europe. The tendency to stretch this principle, so generally popular in the United States; to use it as a shield against actual and imaginary dangers threatening from abroad, even if it neither applies nor assists, is but the too natural outcome of the sharply defined American patriotism. There is a great measure of truth in the words of one of the ablest and most discriminating American antagonists of the Monroe Doctrine, Hiram Bingham, who recently wrote, ‘I believe that . . . these two words, “Monroe Doctrine,” have come to be used by us in place of two other words that are less interesting and less significant, namely, “ foreign policy.” Our foreign policy is the Monroe Doctrine. Whatever our foreign policy happens to be for the moment is called the Monroe Doctrine.’ 3

Quite the opposite construction is applied by the rest of the world. At the present time they accept it in a spirit of cold aloofness. The result is that, abroad, efforts are made to restrict its scope as far as possible; and since its scope is actually but a very limited one, Europe, on the whole, comes closer to a true interpretation than does the United States.

I should be loath to have the foregoing statement so understood as to convey the idea that to my mind the whole world is, without exception, hostile to the Monroe Doctrine. In so far as it affects Europe, naturally one will find but few true enthusiasts to champion it, although in England, during recent times, persons in high office have repeatedly spoken in the friendliest terms of the Monroe Doctrine. Their utterances have been eagerly transmitted to America and there believed. None the less, one should mistrust them; no Englishman can favor the Monroe Doctrine. Any such affection would be unnatural, and analogous to a child’s love of the rod, or to the pseudofraternal enthusiasm of democratic France for Russia the absolute. More fully to grasp this fact, it is only necessary to remember that, with the exception of the intervention of Napoleon III in Mexico, and the episode of Magdalena Bay, every blow that the United States has struck with the aid of the Monroe Doctrine has been dealt to England, and put up with by her. One can hardly fail to make the interesting observation that this doctrine, in the origin of which England took such an active part, is the strongest weapon of which the United States disposes in the long-protracted, and by no means concluded contest which she and England are waging for supremacy in America.

A certain reticence and aloofness in the attitude of official Europe toward the Monroe Doctrine, ‘ a watchful waiting, mixed with a certain amount of mistrust,’ should in no way surprise an unbiased observer when applied to a doctrine which in itself is a challenge to European statesmanship. In connection with this point, it should be noted that the feeling of general hostility to the Monroe Doctrine throughout Europe gathered force but very slowly until the outbreak of the present war. Even now, the sentiment of Europe is far more favorable to it than is that of the states of Central and South America, for whose protection it was originated.

In so far as Germany is particularly affected, it should be stated that recently, under the influence of the everincreasing relations between the two countries, — at the moment, alas, so wantonly threatened, — and because of a growing mutual comprehension, there has been a daily increasing number of persons who recognize the tremendous value which the Monroe Doctrine possesses for the purposes of the United States. In it they see the master-key to the political power of that country; they envy her the theory, and they have formed their ideas as to its significance in connection with the minimizing of possible bones of contention between the members of the family of nations.

To be sure, now and again in Germany, as in all countries, even in the United States, one reads and hears attacks upon the Monroe Doctrine. To draw conclusions from them as to the public opinion of Europe as a whole, and more especially of Germany, would be an anticipatory and unpardonable generalization of the sort for which the American press has such a deplorable weakness. This has been very clearly demonstrated over and over again by the present war; and no better example can be found — if this slight digression be permissible — than the continued tearing to pieces of Bernhardi’s book as an instance of the ‘German spirit.’ Figures will show that this work is almost unknown in Germany, and is much less widely read there than in America. The theories set forth are energetically denied by the German spirit, to which they stand in absolute opposition. In no way do they coincide with the teachings which are promulgated and supported by, and under the auspices of, Kaiser William II.

As a result of my personal and very minute observations as to German sentiment in regard to the Monroe Doctrine, I can emphasize most strongly the fact that there is not the slightest indication of any actual hostility. Even at the present time the impression produced by sundry reports in connection with the anti-German inclination of certain parties in the United States has in no way altered the general feeling.

Should one wish to generalize superficially concerning public opinion, it would be necessary to give a certain predominance to fear and to surprise. One must point out ‘the dread of the will-o’-the-wisp’; and even this dread of the Monroe Doctrine is traceable to its course and historical development. It is easily accounted for, since, until now, almost every expansion of this doctrine has found its inception in a concrete example, — quasi post factum. It is not as if this newly applicable aspect, of the Monroe Doctrine were unexpected, or had sprung into prominence while the world was unprepared, like the outgrowth of some political phase. One can, by looking back, point out quite clearly each new incident of its inception and development; one can note how the new thought originated and grew to maturity, until, at last, it stood out as a definite attitude, finding its expression in a concrete example. Even the Monroe message of 1823 did not, like Pallas Athene, spring suddenly, full grown and fully armed, from the head of Zeus; it was rather the outcome of a long series of separate, and yet consecutive, historical theories. It is, however, characteristic, that it was not primarily enunciated, and subsequently applied to isolated incidents, but — and thereby it can be distinguished from a legal axiom — had its origin in its application to incidents. One must admit that, as its origin was justifiable, so is its continuation. The normal result is that, even for him who has devoted much careful study to the Doctrine, it is impossible, at any given time, to state its future scope concisely, clearly, and comprehensively. Any one attempting this must produce his representation in the garb of the present, yet with the superscription, ‘Future Tendencies.’ This holds particularly true in the immediate present. Beyond question, the Monroe Doctrine is now passing through a period of transition, and passing through it so entirely and comprehensively that no equivalent precedent can be found.

In making this statement, I do not anticipate any possibilities more remote than that the Monroe Doctrine may extend to the protection of the European colonial possessions remaining on the American continent, — that is, in its relation to the political world of Europe, namely, England, Holland, France, and Denmark. The intervention of the United States in Cuban affairs has certainly cleared the road for the realization of this conception of AmericanEuropean relations. In those hundred days of war, the United States transgressed the law imposed upon her by her own Monroe Doctrine not to interfere with such foreign colonies as still existed in America. Without question, the American political conscience has fully conceived that there is no room for non-American colonies in the American hemisphere. Furthermore, all powers are warned, not only that they may, in the future, acquire no new territory, but that they must relinquish any possessions they have previously held, and still control, in America. Even so, this theory has never been logically and simply formulated; it still sleeps the untroubled sleep of the embryo. And yet from time to time there are indications of incipient life. Instinctively, we call to mind Champ Clark’s memorable utterance of February 14, 1911, in which he expressed the wish that he might live to see the day when the American flag should float over the American continent from the North Pole to the Equator.

Be that as it may, this question is not one for our solution; the future will vouchsafe an answer; and the date of that future is unascertained.

On the other hand, one may unhesitatingly state that the Monroe Doctrine, at this moment, is passing through a stage of acute transition and evolution.

I. The Monroe Doctrine in the immediate present is engrossed by the idea of absorbing, controlling, and commercially restricting non-American states. The inception of this theory dates back to the administration of President Grant. The episode of Magdalena Bay, when Japan for the first time came in contact with the Monroe Doctrine, demonstrated the fact that, under certain conditions, this doctrine could be made to apply to, and to restrict, private business relations with America. The well-known Lodge Resolution clearly formulated this theory; and under President Wilson’s administration it has been widely extended. Judging from first appearances, President Wilson, in his departure from the Taft-Knox dollar-diplomacy, which incorporated this standard, was disposed to oppose the natural development of the Monroe Doctrine. In his speech delivered in Mobile on October 28, 1913, and in his first Annual Message, in which he spoke of his oil-concession policy, he has proved the contrary. President Wilson contended that the grant of oil concessions to foreign promoters, through the agency of the weaker American states, was a menace to the Monroe Doctrine and upheld a principle antagonistic thereto. He thereby added weight and scope to various still questionable conceptions dealing with restrictions of foreign trade in America.

It becomes self-evident, without further discussion, that, the ‘Wilson Doctrine’ contains the power and the initiative to restrict without discrimination all trade between foreign nations and America. Basing her arguments on the same assumption of right — namely, the Monroe Doctrine — by which she opposes and denies the grants of oil concessions through Mexico, Columbia, Nicaragua, or Ecuador, the United States can raise the same objections to beneficial contracts entered into between Americans and citizens of foreign countries. She can — to use another example — veto any or all Asiatic or European immigration into Central or South America. And here we are brought face to face with another contingency, — the only one, indeed, which might eventually cause the Monroe Doctrine to militate against German interests. Germany has never yet made a serious attempt to establish colonies in America. The agitation of 1870, when it was claimed that she intended to acquire Porto Rico from Spain, was newspaper talk pure and simple; and the representations against such action which Mr. Cushing made in Madrid at that time were as unnecessary as they were groundless. Sticklers might call attention to the only other exception: in the year 1901, Germany made overtures for the purchase from Venezuela of the island of Marguerita in market-overt, — if the term is applicable, — but abandoned the plan immediately upon the expressed opposition of the United States. On closer examination it will be found that this was hardly a colonization project. It was an enterprise actuated solely by the desire not to see a naval supremacy established without, to a moderate degree, following in the course arbitrarily imposed upon us. By her policy of naval supremacy, England continued to establish a cordon of naval bases around the whole world.4 The heroic fate of the German cruisers on the high seas in the present war has demonstrated to every unprejudiced observer the justice of Germany’s attempt.

In view of what has been said, the expectation should by no means be expressed that the commercial element of the Monroe Doctrine will cause friction between the United States and Germany. Such a contingency can arise only in the course of relations with England, whose every transaction has been actuated by underlying motives, and who, up to the present, has always made use of her political supremacy to advance her commercial influence.

Just so long as this undertone is absent, — and it is entirely foreign to the relations between Germany and the United States, — it would clearly contravene the principles of the United States to impose restrictions upon, or to seek to control, international commerce. This is especially true since she prides herself on being the parent and protector of the ‘Policy of the Open Door,’ even though, at this moment, she boasts but a precarious title to this honorable pretension.

II. Looked at under still another aspect, it must be admitted that the Monroe Doctrine is at present passing through a stage of transition and is undergoing a fundamental change. It is struggling to establish the United States as ‘international policeman of America.’ It is under this heading that the question arises whether, as a supplement to the other pretensions embodied in the Monroe Doctrine, the United States is bound to supervise, assist, and guarantee the good behavior of the other American republics in their relations with the other powers.

This conception of the scope of the Monroe Doctrine was enunciated for the first time, — carefully, to be sure, yet quite distinctly, — by Theodore Roosevelt. His message to the United States Senate, on February 15, 1905, afforded him the opportunity; in it he urged the acceptance of the contract already drawn up between the United States and the Dominican Republic, dealing with the government debts of the latter state.

Since that time, this idea has continued to influence and agitate American thought, although its fusion with the Monroe Doctrine has not yet taken place; there still exists some opposition; its justification and amalgamation with the Monroe Doctrine are still matters of debate, and the American government has by no means adopted it. The attitude of that country toward the Mexican complications is proof positive; for in this respect she has shown more patience than she ever has, or ever would, in dealing with any of her powerful European neighbors, should they find themselves in the throes of acute anarchy.

The question naturally obtrudes itself, whether this idea will ever become incorporated in the Monroe Doctrine; and at the present time this question remains unanswered. To accomplish such a purpose, it will first be necessary for the Monroe Doctrine to emerge victorious from the conflict against the Pan-American agitation in which it is now engaged.

It is not in the opposition of Europe, it is not in the antagonism at present existing in the other American states, that the perpetuation of the Monroe Doctrine finds its most serious menace. It is rather in this Pan-American movement that the greatest danger lurks.

Fundamentally, the Monroe Doctrine and the idea of Pan-Americanism are based on diametrically opposed conceptions. On its own statement, the object of the Monroe Doctrine is to be a doctrine primarily for the benefit of the United States and incidentally for the protection of the weaker by the stronger states. It is a theory depending on a status of superiority and inferiority as a condition precedent. Opposed to this is the uncompromising hypothesis of the brotherly equality of the American republics, on which the Pan-American contention rests.

One can readily grasp that through the historical evolution of time Monroe’s Monroe Doctrine has been metamorphosed from a doctrine for the protection of the United States only, to one embracing the welfare of the whole of America. To-day, unfortunately, the theory of brotherly equality is untenable when the pretension of an existing duty on the part of the United States to supervise the affairs of the other American republics oversteps the Monroc Doctrine proper. Such a pretension effectively abolishes the theory of equality between supervisor and supervised.

The outcome of this conflict between the Monroe Doctrine and Pan-Americanism cannot now be predicted. It is possible that the Monroe Doctrine will succumb to Pan-Americanism. It is possible that this newer agitation will continue to exist for some time, as it does to-day, hampered by the natural sterility of its conception, and will eventually die a slow and natural death. It is possible, and in fact probable, that the result will be a middle course by which the Monroe Doctrine will develop into a doctrine common to a number of the larger American states, — one acceptable to the United States and to the A B C states, — and will incorporate in itself the idea of guardianship over the smaller American republics. This could mean but one thing — the establishment of a concert of states. Such a concert, in the face of the total failure of a similar experiment in Europe, would arrogate to itself a supremacy over the lesser American states.

It is possible also that the ultimate result will be a modification of this arrangement, and that the United States will follow the old interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine in its bearing on Central America, including Venezuela and the West Indies, and will make that region a sphere of her special political influence. It is noteworthy that so far it is especially these states that have come under the protection of the Monroe Doctrine, which has, in fact, been but rarely applied to the other American nations. This is at most but a political pipe-dream.

III. There is, however, a third question which is thrown into sharp relief by the interest of the immediate present: will the Monroe Doctrine ever be recognized by the other world powers? Repeatedly it has been pointed out that this has already been answered, especially by the attitude of the members of the two Hague Conventions toward the stipulations made by representatives of the United States. Actually no recognition of the Monroe Doctrine is to be deduced from this attitude, in the sense in which alone it would have any material value, namely, as implying that in the future the United States shall have the authority to enforce the pretensions of the Monroe Doctrine under all contingencies, even, if necessary, by the use of force. The silence of the members of the Hague Conventions as to the exposition of the demands of the United States Government should be interpreted as nothing more than giving a hearing to a declaration which the other participants in the Convention did not care to discuss.

Had some of the nations whose interests were imperiled during the recent Mexican disturbances intrusted those interests to the United States, — as, in fact, has been reported, more especially from England; in connection with which rumor one must bear in mind the Benton episode, — such action would add weight and importance to the above assertion. Or had England, in the course of the present war, requested the United States to take steps against Venezuela and Ecuador for alleged breaches of neutrality tending to assist Germany, it would be exceedingly difficult not to interpret such a request as a complete recognition byEngland of the Monroe Doctrine.

Whether an implicit acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine by any or all of the world powers will ever be brought about, depends entirely on the attitude of the United States toward the present war. Confidence and might must be coexistent, since together they form a sine qua non. The world must be convinced that it can safely rely upon the attitude of the United States in regard to international relations.

I will express no opinion as to whether the countenancing by the American government of the exportation of war munitions should, or should not, be deemed a breach of neutrality. It is none the less as contrary to the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine as the present tone of the American press. All of this will make itself felt in the subsequent relations between the United States and Germany, and it will doubtless play a part unfavorable to the Union in the general accounting, when her attitude toward Germany’s opponents is considered. Partiality in international crises has always brought its own reward.

Still more significant, when viewed in this light, is the passive position assumed by the United States in regard to the attack made by Japan (her natural enemy) upon defenseless China, in spite of her decisive and frequently enunciated policy of the ‘Open Door’ in the Far East. Most important of all is her inaction in the face of Japan’s latest efforts to gain a foothold on the Mexican coast.

How can the United States expect that in the future the world will place any weight upon her assurances, when in the critical hour she is not willing to bear the results of her policy; to insist upon her rights, or to perform the duties which she has undertaken? With this depreciation of the prestige of the United States, the chances of a general and international recognition of the Monroe Doctrine are necessarily lessened.

Side by side with this moral factor, a second stands in natural sequence, — that of power. So far in this war the United States has stood aloof, posing as a disinterested spectator, wrapped in a garment of power. This is particularly true of her behavior in connection with Japan’s attitude toward Mexico and China.

How can the United States expect that in future the world will respect, fear, or even heed her protests and demands, when she has demonstrated that she is not prepared to act when the gravest international interests are at stake?

The destinies even of the United States may be affected by this war. Let us hope that she may find what, just now, every nation of the world needs more than anything else, — wise and far-sighted statesmen.

  1. This paper, written at the request of the Atlantic by an eminent German authority, was translated from Professor Kraus’s manuscript by John Heard, Jr. — THE EDITORS.
  2. Washington’s Farewell Address of September 17, 1796.
  3. For an able statement of the case against the Monroe Doctrine, see Professor Bingham’s “ The Monroe Doctrine: An Obsolete Shibboleth,” in the Atlantic for June, 1913. — THE EDITORS.
  4. It seems appropriate here to point out that the following islands, and groups of islands, are at the present moment in English possession: the Bay Islands, Galapagos Islands, Falkland Islands, Corn Islands, Tortuga, Trinidad, and Tiger Island. — THE AUTHOR.